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ADHD vs OCD: What’s the Difference?

4 min.


By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

April 7, 2023


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Table of Contents


While ADHD and OCD share some symptoms, they are distinct disorders with different underlying causes and treatment approaches.

ADHD is primarily characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In contrast, OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts or images and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors or mental acts aimed at reducing anxiety or distress caused by the obsessions.

Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention, being organized, and completing tasks, whereas individuals with OCD may be preoccupied with repetitive thoughts or behaviors that are unrelated to the task at hand.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to sustain attention, control impulsive behaviors, and regulate hyperactivity. It is a common condition that affects both children and adults and can lead to difficulties in academic, occupational, and social functioning.

Symptoms of ADHD typically present in childhood and may persist into adulthood. Adult ADHD symptoms can look different than those of children. The three primary symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Inattentive symptoms include difficulty paying attention to details, making careless mistakes, forgetfulness, losing things, and being easily distracted. Hyperactive symptoms include fidgeting, squirming, running or climbing excessively, and feeling restless. Impulsive symptoms include interrupting others, blurting out inappropriate comments, and engaging in risky behaviors without considering the consequences.

ADHD is a complex condition that is thought to arise from a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. It can be diagnosed after a thorough evaluation by a medical professional, including medical history, physical examination, and psychological testing.

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What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses (obsessions) and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) aimed at reducing anxiety or distress caused by the obsessions. These obsessions and compulsions can significantly impair an individual’s daily functioning and interfere with their ability to engage in normal activities.

The obsessions and compulsions associated with obsessive compulsive disorder can take many forms, and OCD symptoms may look different for each person. Some common obsessions include fear of contamination, concern with symmetry or order, and unwanted thoughts or images that are violent or sexual in nature. Compulsions associated with OCD may include excessive cleaning or hand-washing, checking behaviors, and repeated counting or arranging of objects.

Other common OCD symptoms include fear of contamination, obsessive doubts, symmetry and orderliness, hoarding, aggressive or taboo thoughts, and checking and rechecking behaviors. It is important to note that OCD behaviors can vary widely depending on each person, and a proper diagnosis should be made by a qualified mental health professional.

The exact causes of OCD are not fully understood but are believed to be a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. OCD can be diagnosed after a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional, including a psychological assessment and clinical interview.

Girl laying on the couch dealing with her OCD

Can someone have both ADHD and OCD at the same time?

It is possible for a person to have both ADHD and OCD at the same time. This is known as comorbidity, which refers to the presence of two or more disorders in the same individual.

The presence of comorbid ADHD and OCD can complicate the diagnosis and treatment of both disorders. Individuals with comorbid ADHD and OCD may experience more severe symptoms and may have a poorer response to treatment than those with either disorder alone. Treatment for comorbid ADHD and OCD typically involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

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What are the treatment options for ADHD and OCD?

ADHD treatment typically involves a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. ADHD medication may include stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall), which are commonly prescribed to improve attention and reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity. Non-stimulant medication, such as atomoxetine (Strattera) and guanfacine (Intuniv), may also be used to treat ADHD symptoms.

Behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or parent training, can also be helpful in treating ADHD. CBT can help individuals with ADHD develop skills to manage their symptoms, while parent training can provide parents with strategies for managing their child’s behavior and improving communication.

OCD treatment typically involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), are commonly prescribed to reduce OCD symptoms. These medications work by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is also an effective treatment for OCD. CBT for OCD involves exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of therapy that involves gradually exposing individuals to their feared thoughts or situations and helping them learn to tolerate the resulting anxiety without engaging in compulsive behaviors.

For individuals with comorbid ADHD and OCD, treatment may involve a combination of medication and psychotherapy for both disorders. In some cases, treating one disorder may also improve the symptoms of the other. For example, stimulant medications used to treat ADHD may also improve symptoms of OCD.

Treating OCD and ADHD with Charlie Health

In conclusion, ADHD and OCD are two distinct disorders that can affect an individual’s daily functioning and quality of life. While they share some symptoms, such as impulsivity and distractibility, they are characterized by different underlying causes and treatment approaches. It is possible for an individual to have both ADHD and OCD at the same time, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals with ADHD and OCD can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their daily functioning.

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ADHD and OCD can be misdiagnosed due to the similarities in their symptoms. Here’s how you can tell the difference.

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